Governor MK Narayanan (left) and Karan Singh at the Indian Museum lecture. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta
The Indian Museum, being the country’s first “seminal, fundamental museum”, needs to be known “much better” than it is today, Karan Singh said while delivering a lecture on “India’s many splendoured heritage: tangible and intangible”.
The museum with its massive collection of antiquities “continue to play a central role” in generating awareness about Indian cultural legacies, the president of Indian Council for Cultural Relations said on Saturday while delivering the first of a series of lectures to mark 200 years of the museum.
The lecture was chaired by governor M.K. Narayanan, the chairperson of the museum’s board of trustees.
Singh said awareness, “reintegration and creative interpretation will help greatly in the new intellectual renaissance, which we now require” to meet the challenges of India’s entry into a global society.
“Beauty, its creation and appreciation is a very important element in Indian cultural heritage. Satyam Shivam Sundaram — the True, the Auspicious and the Beautiful — represent the Indian theory of aesthetics,” Singh pointed out, but hastened to add that “Indian civilisational heritage is not confined to the present Indian state. It is something much wider, larger”.
Singh spoke of a “common misconception” about India — that it is just another country. “Country it certainly is.... But more important is the fact that it has a civilisational entity from the beginning of recorded history. The sweep and scope of Indian civilisation stretches all the way from West Asia to South East Asia and the countries of this region bear its unmistakable imprint on language, architecture, fine arts and many other areas of activities. This is not said in the spirit of chauvinism, it is reiteration of a fact that is often forgotten.”
Referring to all the monuments of India and the Bengal renaissance, Singh said: “It has been India’s genius that whenever a serious threat arises, the Indian civilisation produces an effective response. The whole of our history can be looked upon as a saga of challenge and response and each paradigm shift created new forms of art and architecture — one of the reasons why our heritage is so rich and diverse.”
In his concluding note, the governor said the Indian Museum was “unique” for its valuable collection but there should be “more interaction with the audience”.
Speaking to Metro after the speech, Singh said efforts should be taken to acquaint the young with the country’s heritage. “Visiting museums, monuments and cultural sites is always illuminating. The very young should be taken to museums and young adults should be encouraged to read the classics. For me Jawharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India had been an eye-opener....”
Asked if there should be changes in the history textbooks as recently suggested by some organisations, Singh said: “I don’t know exactly what changes are being suggested but yes, instead of learning about boring viceroys — except Lord Curzon, who contributed substantially in building the collections of tangible heritage, safeguarding artefacts from being looted and smuggled — children should learn more about individuals like Max Mueller, William Jones, Alexander Cunningham, James Prinsep and others who contributed to our estimation of our culture.”